Sunday, February 28, 2010


In honour of the much remarked upon words of the Megilla, "V'nahafoch hu," meaning "and it was turned upside down," this d'var Torah is presented in a somewhat unusual format. And for those of you who like to keep their computer screen the right way up, don't worry, normal servcice is resumed below :)

Every week at the Hebrew University, the local Hillel hosts a learning session with free food. The people there are all very pleasant, I have a partner I learn with and oh, did I mention, there's free food! Anyway, every so often different speakers come in to share and speak with the students. About one moneth ago, when the program restarted after the semester break, a man callld Rabbi Amichai Salomon, from Tekoa, came in to share some early purim thoughts. With his permission, I'd like to share one of the things he taught that evening.

During the session, the mitzvah of blotting out Amalek's name was mentioned. The traditional enemy of the Jewish nation is called Amalek, an entity whose nature is disputed. Some call it another nation, some think it to be a characteristic, or set of characteristics and some even say that it represents the ebil inclination within every one of us. In the Purim story, Haman tried to have the Jewish nation killed and so we deem him to be an Amalekite. For this reason, we boo his name during the reading of the megillah. We derive this commandment from the phrase, "timche et zecher Amalek," which (when translated literally) means, "You shall erase the memory of Amalek".

A friend of mine remarked that this command seems rather contradictory. I too, had always wondered how it could be that whenever we read or even think about these words we are remembering Amalek, which was exactly what were supposed to avoid doing! How then, are we to take this mitzvah? Rabbi Salomon's answer, sourced from Breslov Chassidut, was that we should not translate the word in the meaning of "memory". The three letter Hebrew root ז-כ-ר has more than one meaning, and another form it may take is to mean "male". So instead of understanding this command as an imoerative to erase the memory of Amalek, we should understand it to denote a rather odd and vague command to erase the "masculine" of Amalek.

Rabbi Salomon explained that in Jewish thought there is a a concept of male and female, giver and received, yin and yang if you like, or thesis and antithesis. The male is a metaphor for the dominant force, which can be good and for bad. In the case of Amalek, such dominance is unwanted and clearly a bad thing. So instead of us being commanded to erase the memory of Amalek, he explained, we are told to wipe out the force of Amalek, which makes much more sense on a logical level. While it is very hard for us to remove something like a memory from our minds, we may achieve liberty by freeing ourselves from the shackles of outside influences and alien affects.

Purim Sameach!

No comments:

Post a Comment